Thursday, May 26, 2011


MP3 Album Cover
I was fortunate to follow-up a fine live performance with the further listening of this album by a fine young Philadelphia band. Like the live set, the album features a fine variety of styles and moods. Kelly Ruth is the primary songwriter and handles lead vocal duties and plays a nice upright bass. She is supplemented by drums and guitar primarily with some additional instruments dancing in and out. This is quirky modern folk music that maintains some strong roots in tradition. That is a difficult balance, but it is handled smoothly with the fine arrangements and even better vocal harmonies. These harmonies give everything a "feel good" vibe that have these songs briskly dancing by. Jazz works its way into the mix as the album moves forward and there is even a "swinging London" moment in "Miss West". The closer, "When I Get Low, I Get High", brings a nice twist on the Ella Fitzgerald classic. I can recommend this for fans of snappy 60s pop-folk bands, lounge-pop crossover connoisseurs and listeners hip to the lighter side of the Akron/Family. Indulge.

Songs to try out:

Beekeeper - Truly as interesting as most anything by Joanna Newsome or any of the other nu-folkies out there.

Moscow (Brother, Brother) - A nice electric guitar undercuts the nice harmonies at work.

Miss West -- This songs shows the best of their 1960s roots, but with a whole lot more going on than just that.

Broad Ditch 
Cover Art

Remember when punk was freedom from narrow categorization? Exhilaration and liberation from the status quo (mainstream music, not the band, although yes... the band Status Quo)? Ultimate freedom of expression? Well, if you blinked in the late 70s, you may have missed that. But from time to time, and even in the olden days of rock, there have always been many bands that had a quirky charm or a radical abrasive quality to the folk and rock music they created. Some names? Holy Modal Rounders, Zappa, Beefheart, Red Krayola, Max Webster (I've always wanted to name drop this oddity), and the Contortions are some of the names that come to my mind when I hear the music of Presto Bando. There is a smooth undercurrent of a rhythm section with shards of angular vocals and jagged rock chords  on top of it all. There are moments of folk rock that are an update on the Holy Modal Rounders sound, but there is also some old time 50s rock sound in the mix although you may have to listen closely.  This DC band is worth a look and a listen for their ability to combine creativity and originality in a way that is plain fun to listen to. Lyrically, Kleenex Blues is amusing and there are many more subtle and overt moments of humor in the songs that will come out after many listens. This is not a sound for the faint of heart, but for those tired of listening to the same old minor variants on traditional genres, give this one a spin.

Songs to try out:

Best Guess - A nice flowing sound in spite of the jagged edges.

Echo Echo E-cho - This twisted rock'n'roll sound is reminiscent of the Flesheaters and their ability to take garage rock, punk rock and naive intensity and make a great rock song. Not as easy as it sounds.

Upside Down Sea - A really nice bass line flying around the steady drums and clanging chords.

With all the Americana indie rock bands and shoegaze electronica variants climbing over each other to release records, I always find it nice to find straight up rock bands who simply let it rip. Local rockers Midnight Hike do that and more here in their debut. They vary it around a bit which is always helpful with a few songs that add plenty of reggae moves. One of those, "Long Way from Yesterday" sneaks in a bit of R&B as well. The other nice element to this is that although classic rock figures in the equation, it does have enough of a modern touch to not make it a museum piece or an homage. This is a short album coming in at under a half-hour, but there is no point adding filler. This is a tight nicely produced debut as is. I think there is room to sharpen up the songwriting and there are hints of that in the closer, "Broken" which has a great building intensity to it like many a classic rock song. I look forward to seeing the live show and seeing this band's growth.

Songs to try out:

Bucket of Lies - Nice melodic rocker with a slick sound, well produced and arranged. Classic sound.

All Days - Nice screaming guitars that offer the closest 'old school' rock sound.

Broken - The closer here is a real epic rock song with good drama.

There is a sub-genre of folk music called Loner Stoner Folk. Baltimore's Red Sammy takes Appalachian, folk, and blues, and heads off in this direction while bringing it down some more. This may be wyrdfolk, although that is not to imply there is anything other worldly dominating here. This is grounded music and locks into a steady controlled pace with a basic rhythm section allowing guitars to maneuver about in their driving and sometimes snaky foreboding manner. The key is the slide guitar which pushes and pulls in a gentle, mystical motion. The vocals veer a bit too much in the Tom Waits direction for my taste (as I am mixed on Waits), but after a couple of songs, they begin to fit the music more comfortably. It also depends on the song. Fans of 16 Horsepower and Peter Walker will want to listen to this along with anyone interested in darker folk songs such as you may hear from Stone Breath or even Michael Chapman at times. There is a lot to listen to in these eight songs. I am sure I will know a lot more after several further listens.

Songs to try out:

Come Back Home - This is the rockingest song with the rock steady beat and plenty of edges for the guitars to sharpen.

Camping Trailer - Evocative vocals work well here with a great musically rural landscape.

Wild Dogs - This and "Cactus Flower" are the folkiest numbers. This one sounds like a friendly song you would hear at night on your local radio station on the highway headed home. Still the lone voice, acoustic guitar and trippy background (cymbal is it?) give it unique character.

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